Saturday, December 15, 2012

Carrying case for a dual-bay USB drive enclosure

I wrote in a previous post about upgrading my off-site backup hard drives from a standard, single-bay enclosure to a dual-bay USB enclosure.  The down side of that upgrade is that, being twice as wide, the enclosure no longer fit into the padded carrying case that I used to use when transporting the drives.  I searched high and low for a pre-made carrying case that would fit the new enclosure without being grossly oversized or horribly expensive, but to no avail.  What I ended up doing was buying a hard-sided lunch box for $10 and padding it myself with foam packing material from an LCD monitor carton.  The result works better than any pre-made option I could find.

The new, 2-drive RAID enclosure is a Vantec NexStar MX (NST-400MX-S3R).  It works wonderfully for off-site backups, and can hold up to 6TB when loaded with two 3TB drives.  The enclosure is 1/8" shy of 3x5x8" (75x125x200mm).  When searching for a case, I even called Vantec tech support.  They were very friendly, but couldn't offer any suggestions.  Other people suggested looking for Pelican cases (expensive), camera cases (also expensive), or hand gun cases (generally too shallow).

All the while I was looking, I had been carrying the drive back and forth to work in my old, soft-sided lunch container.  It provided very minimal protection, but it was the perfect size.  I would have just bought another identical container, but those soft-sided pails provide no protection whatsoever at the corners, which is the most likely place for an impact to occur if I were to drop the drive.

I eventually found a hard-sided lunch box at Shopko that worked perfectly.  It's made by California Innovations, model number 1-61801-00-04.  The sides and back are a single piece of plastic, surrounded on the outside by thin, padded insulation.  The lid is made of only that soft insulation, with no hard surface.  The inside of the plastic container allowed about 3/4" of free space around all sides of the drive enclosure, and about 1/4" of space on the top and bottom.  I would have liked more padding on the top & bottom, but this would have to do.

Ever the pack rat, I had been acquiring quite a stash of dense, foam padding that LCD monitors are packed in.  (I work at a software company that buys lots of monitors.)  One such piece was perfect for cutting up to pad the inside of the lunch box.

The basic steps to forming the padding were pretty straightforward.  I did most of the work with a set of X-Acto knives (craft/carving knives) that I've had forever.

First, I cut a flat section that had the same footprint as the front & back of the case.  My foam was made of six layers, each 1/8" thick, glued together.  I sliced two of them off the panel to pad the bottom of the box, and another two to pad the front cover.  I used rubber cement to glue the foam to the inside of the front cover, but the foam inside the plastic tub fits snugly with no adhesive.

Next, I cut two of the corners off my foam to get two L-shaped pieces of the proper depth and length.  I also had to shave down the thickness a bit to get it just right.  Shaving off a pre-formed corner rather than four straight sides will probably give me just a tiny bit more protection if the drive ever has to withstand an impact on a corner.

Once the sides were cut, I trimmed out two triangular pockets on each side so that I can get my fingers in there to remove the drive.  These won't adversely affect the level of protection at all.

The final result is a very snug fit that should protect the drive enclosure quite well unless I throw it across the room or drop it off my roof.  I've been using it for a couple months now, and it works great.  My only concern is whether the built-in handle on the lunch box will hold up over time.  So far, so good, but you never know.  The hard drives are significantly heavier than the lunches that this handle was designed to support.

In case you're curious, here are a few of the other cases I looked at before making my own:

Case Logic SLR Zoom Holster TBC-308 (best commercial option?)

Zeikos ZE-HC18 Deluxe small photo and video hard case

Ape Case ACHC5400 Small Aluminum Hard Case

Bryco - Hard Drive Carrying Case HDC-2

Ape Case ACLW13487 Lightweight Stackable Protective Box without Foam

Pelican 1150 Watertight Hard Case with Foam Insert

Vanguard VGP-3200 Professional Aluminum Reinforced ABS Plastic Case

Flashpoint SealTite 1400 Water-Resistant, High-Impact Hard Case with Foam

VIDPRO Courier CR-325 Large Digital Camera or Camcorder Carrying Case

Adorama Camera, Video & Photo Bags & Cases

Allen Company Molded Attache Handgun Case

Plano 2 Pistol Case

Flambeau Pistol Pack Series

Pelican Product Cases

Lowepro Rezo 170 AW Camera Bag

Have you ever come up with an inventive method for carrying a delicate object?  Please leave a comment and tell us your story!

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